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Napolitano: DHS Not Looking to Deport 'DREAM Act Students'

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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, left, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan testify on Capitol Hill in Washington June 28 about the DREAM Act. (AP)

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano denied that the Obama administration is trying to unilaterally execute immigration policies contained in the stalled DREAM Act -- but at the same time she said it "doesn't make sense" to deport illegal immigrant students who would be covered by the proposal. 

Her comments Tuesday on Capitol Hill suggest that even if the DREAM Act does not pass, federal immigration officials will not target illegal immigrants who would otherwise be given a reprieve under the bill. 

The DREAM Act is a proposal that would give illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children a chance at legal status if they complete two years of college or military service. Democrats are pushing a new version of the bill after it died in the Senate last year. 

Though the latest proposal stands little chance of advancing in the GOP-dominated House, the administration recently issued a memo that covered similar ground. The memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton instructed staff to consider 19 factors when exercising "prosecutorial discretion" -- or the discretion an ICE attorney has in deciding whether and how to pursue or dismiss an immigration case. 

The list includes factors similar to those in the DREAM Act, like whether someone arrived in the U.S. as a "young child," is pursuing an education or has served in the military. 

Questioned about DHS enforcement Tuesday at a Senate hearing on the DREAM Act, Napolitano confirmed that the department is not interested in deporting "DREAM Act students." 

"We have provided information about what it would take to do removal of everyone in the country. It's obvious that those resources aren't available, and when you're talking about DREAM Act students, it really doesn't make sense," Napolitano said. 

At the same time, Napolitano denied that the recent ICE memo was being used to get around the failure of Congress to pass the DREAM Act. She said the administration's enforcement of illegal immigration is "unparalleled," but that federal officials are trying to make that enforcement as effective as possible. 

"We simply don't see appropriations necessary in order to remove everyone who is technically removable from the United States, so we have to set priorities," Napolitano said. 

In doing so, the department has tried to mostly target serious criminal offenders for deportation. The recent ICE memo stressed that factors like a criminal history should weigh against illegal immigrants in federal custody, while factors like whether someone came to the U.S. as a child should weigh in their favor. 

"They really do focus on those who ... are the greatest risk to public safety," Napolitano said Tuesday. 

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, questioned Napolitano on whether her department has ever asked Congress for the resources necessary to fully enforce immigration law. 

Napolitano twice said her department has provided Congress with "information" about what it would take to remove 11 million people. 

"You are not answering my question," Cornyn shot back.